Blackboards ~ (Iran, 2000) ~ DVD

Iranian Director Samira Makhmalbaf’s film (her second) serves as a metaphor for wandering refugees seeking a return to their homeland. A group of Kurds, teachers with blackboards strapped to their backs are in search for students to teach. Two split off from the rest, and one of them, Reeboir, falls in with a group of “mules”, young kids who carry contraband across the border into Iran, always on the move never stopping. They are not interested, they tell Reeboir, in learning how to read or write. What good would reading do them? Reading requires sitting down, and they have to keep moving, constantly.

Said meets up with a group of refugees trying to make their way back to their homeland. They had been the victims of Saddam’s chemical warfare, and are terrified of the same thing happening to them again. Said gets married to a widow with a small child, and divorced again later along the path. The blackboard he carries is used as a barrier between the couple as they are wed. A stretcher for a wounded companion, as a door to block out prying eyes on the wedding night. As a shield from the bullets of war. Even as a clothesline to dry the laundry. When Said writes on the blackboard “I love you” in an effort to get Halaleh to say it, she refuses. At the end of the journey, Said has led the refugees to the border crossing into Iran, and they split up. After their ritual divorce – the blackboard serves here again – Halaleh takes her dowry with her – the blackboard. She walks away from Said with the blackboard now on her back, “I love you” fading away in the mist of war.

Ms. Makhmalbaf’s films are starkly and deeply metaphorical. I remember her from TIFF 2008, when she introduced her film Two-Legged Horse. A brutal and unrelenting tale of a privileged but paraplegic boy from a well-off Afghan clan who uses a wretchedly poor boy as his personal conveyance. She’s an honest director who pulls no punches.

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